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Lord Laming: I am grateful to the Minister. I have absolutely no doubt about his determination or the determination of the Government as a whole to achieve the objectives of the Bill. To that extent I go a long way to being reassured. The Minister is right in saying that the Children Act uses the word "may". That is why I moved the amendments. The good authorities who have demonstrated that they go with the spirit of the Act have fulfilled the aspirations of that Act and have set good standards of care for children and young people who are looked after.

However, there are a number of other local authorities which have not demonstrated that they have been good corporate parents to those young people. In my view, they have been able to exploit a weakness in the Children Act from the use of the word "may". It is for that reason that I felt that there was a strong case to make this a special exception to the usual arguments about "may" and "shall" and to leave local authorities, which will have important responsibilities under the Act when it is implemented, in no doubt that they will be required to fulfil the clear guidance that will be sent from the Government in regulation.

I do not want to press the point this afternoon. I am grateful to the Minister for his thoughtful and customary helpful response and there may be an opportunity before we meet again to have a further word about it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Lord Laming moved Amendment No. 6A:

("( ) Arrangements under this paragraph shall be co-ordinated with provisions in the Learning and Skills Act 2000 for personal advisers for young people."").

The noble Lord said: I first apologise for the lateness of the amendment. I justify that simply on the basis that I was unable to answer a question that was asked of me by someone else and I hope that the Minister will be able to do better than I did.

This is a probing amendment. As noble Lords will know, in the main Chamber there is, or will soon be, a discussion on the Learning and Skills Bill, which allows for personal advisers for young people in special circumstances. That is to be welcomed. The question that was put to me was whether there would be any co-ordination between the two pieces of legislation to ensure that young people who are looked after will either not be overwhelmed by personal advisers--would that were possible--or fall between two stools, which is more likely. I beg to move.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The noble Lord raises a most important point. I hope that I can reassure him on this. I have referred already to the announcement on 3rd February by the Secretary of State for Education when he launched the new ConneXions

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service for all young people aged 13 to 19. The aims of this universal service are to improve the life chances of young people, to reduce the number who drop out of school, who leave with no qualifications, or who too often end up as socially excluded, on the streets or in prison, as the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, reminded us earlier.

The new arrangements for young people in and leaving care aim for the same outcomes. We want young people who are equipped to take their place in society and play a productive and responsible role.

The ConneXions service will provide advisers for all young people who will give more intensive and specialised support as it is required. In many ways, they will play the same role that we envisage for our young person's advisers.

I fully accept the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Laming. We do not want the situation where young people end up with any number of advisers duplicating roles or indeed, as the noble Lord says, falling through the net. We shall make sure that that is not the case. My department and the DfEE officials are working closely together to ensure that we co-ordinate the two services.

We need some flexibility because for many young people, for instance, who fall under the new arrangements, the young person's adviser will also be their ConneXions' adviser. The two services, therefore, work closely together, operating under the same umbrella. There may be some cases, particularly among older children, where the young person's adviser might wish to work in the background because the ConneXions' adviser might have some special skills to offer.

ConneXions is to be piloted from this April, and we have made sure that one of the pilot areas includes a leaving care team which already offers the kind of support which we expect from the young person's adviser. I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord. I believe that the ConneXions adviser is a great advance for many young people, but we will ensure that it works well with the young person's advisers.

Lord Laming: I had no doubt that the Minister would be more persuasive than I could ever attempt to be on this matter. I found his reply extremely helpful and reassuring. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Additional functions of local authorities in respect of certain children]:

The Earl of Listowel moved Amendment No. 6B:

    Page 2, line 17, at end insert--

("( ) In section 20 (provision of accommodation for children: general) at the end insert--
"(12) A local authority shall continue to provide accommodation for any child until he is 18 unless he can demonstrate that he is ready and willing to cease being looked after by them."").

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The noble Earl said: In moving the amendment, I wish to speak to Amendment No. 6C. The amendments stand in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and of the noble Earl, Lord Howe. The purpose of the amendments is to create a presumption that children remain looked after until they are 18 unless they are ready and willing to leave public care.

The arrangements in the Bill make considerable improvements to young people who are leaving or have already left public care. However, the Bill does not explicitly state the Government's intention that children should not be prematurely discharged from public care before they are 18. The amendments reflect the wording adopted in Me, Survive Out there?, the Government's consultation document.

Public care is still the best situation for a young person to be in because it has the broadest duties towards these young people. This is particularly significant in relation to financial support. For children on care orders, the local authority is the corporate parent with parental responsibility. This should continue in all cases until the child is 18 as in a natural family. Members of the Committee will be aware that the average age for children leaving home is 22.

The greatest difficulties in this area arise in relation to those children who are "accommodated". Some children have been accommodated for many years and have no family networks on which to rely. The present law is unclear in this area. The law says that parents cannot discharge their children from accommodation after their 16th birthday. It does not say that these children should be discharged from accommodation when they are 16 but that is the way in which the Children Act is increasingly interpreted by local authorities, usually resource-led because at 16 children can presently claim benefits. The Bill, of course, intends to change that aspect.

Perhaps I may give the example of John, who is just 16 years old. He has been accommodated for several months. His foster placement broke down. The social worker said to John that he had discharged himself because he was no longer living with his carers. He was told that he would have to go to supported lodgings and claim benefits. John felt that he was not mature enough to cope with this arrangement and that he needed more support. With help from his advocate the local authority agreed that he remained accommodated and he was placed with new foster carers.

The new arrangements in the Bill should serve as a disincentive for this sort of practice but there is no guarantee that accommodated children will no longer feel pressurised to move out of public care. It may be that the financial and housing arrangements for those who have left care are less favourable than the broader duties of local authorities for looked-after children. This is something about which we do not yet know the details but about which there are grave concerns on the part of young people. These amendments make

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explicit the Government's intentions to improve the situation for 16 and 17-year olds. I look forward to the Minister's reply. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Clement-Jones: The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has made the case effectively. There is, and has been, a great problem with children leaving care prematurely and, even though they are fully entitled to do so at 16, the number leaving care at that age has been rising. This amendment is designed to rectify that and to try to produce some mechanism which will make sure that there is some incentive for them not to leave care at too early an age. We hope that one of the products of the Bill when it becomes an Act will be to ensure that young people do not leave care as early as they have before. I, therefore, support the amendment.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: It would be good if there were a half-way house system so that children in residential care, when they reached the age of, say, 16, could go into a half-way house where they were more independent and they could be gently weaned into society while still giving them some support.

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